It’s been six rocky months since Discovery finalized its acquisition of Warner Bros. from AT&T.
Ahead of Warner Bros. Discovery’s third-quarter earnings call later today, it felt like the right time to look back at the first half-year of WBD and reevaluate the state of animation at the legendary studio.
To that end, we’ve put together a timeline of the animation stories that have come out of Warners over the past six months.
Some notes on the timeline:
- Our list is not exhaustive, but we’re confident we managed to cover the key stories needed to paint a larger picture of what’s going on with animation at WBD.
- The shift in the tone of stories coming out of WBD since the company’s Q2 earnings call is striking. In the weeks and months leading up to that call, HBO Max, Cartoon Network, and Adult Swim were making regular announcements of new series and film commissions. Following the call, most Warner stories dealt with cuts, removals, layoffs, cancellations, and the selling of assets.
- There were plenty of clues that things weren’t all right at Warner’s animation companies before that call, however. Executives were being shifted and replaced and the language being used to talk about animation, particularly among Cartoon Network executives, was concerning.
- In isolation, each story about a cancelled project, a removed series, or a round of layoffs was painful to write. Seen laid out like this, it feels almost tragic. So many finished, nearly finished, and promising projects are now locked away, and many artists and executives have lost their jobs. Here’s hoping that when WBD is back on stronger footing, some of the fantastic work done by those artists will find its way back into the light of day.
THE 2022 TIMELINE
April 8: Discovery completes its acquisition of Warner Bros. from AT&T.
May 6: HBO Max, Cartoon Network announce animated feature Driftwood and series Invincible Fight Girl.
May 11: Announcement that Warner head of kids/YA Tom Ascheim is leaving the company.
May 18: Adult Swim greenlights Rick and Morty: The Anime and Ninja Kamui.
May 18: HBO Max and Cartoon Network announce Chelm: The Smartest Place on Earth, an animated project from Mike Judge, Greg Daniels, and Sacha Baron Cohen.
May 23: The Scooby-Doo universe grows as HBO Max and Cartoon Network unveil Scooby-Doo! And the Mystery Pups, the franchise’s first show for preschoolers.
June 1: Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group chairman Toby Emmerich steps down.
June 7: Warner Bros. head of kids and family programming – including Cartoon Network – Amy Friedman claims “girls often graduate out of animation” as an explanation for the company’s second try at live-action programming.
June 15: HBO Max announces Batman Azteca, a Mexico-set, Aztec-era Batman feature commissioned by HBO Max Latin America, and sci-fi survival series Scavengers Reign from Joe Bennett and Charles Huettner.
August 2: 95% complete Scoob! sequel is cancelled, along with the live-action Batgirl movie, casting an ominous shadow over Warner’s upcoming Q2 earnings call.
August 4: This is where things really take a turn. WBD hosts an earnings call in which CEO David Zaslav outlines his plans for the company’s future. From this point on, news coming out of Warner is largely about cuts, cancellations, layoffs, and consolidation as Zaslav and his crew implement their most extreme cost-cutting measures yet.
August 15: Allison Abbate steps down as head of Warner Animation Group.
August 18: Without warning, dozens of shows are removed from HBO Max.
August 22: Driftwood, an original animated feature announced only three months prior, is cancelled.
August 22: Warner announces a half-dozen upcoming HBO Max originals are no longer moving forward at the streamer. It was later confirmed that most of the productions are being shopped to other networks and platforms.
August 20: Infinity Train creator Owen Dennis is one of the first showrunners of a series dropped by HBO Max to speak about the removals, posting a candid open letter on his Substack.
September 1: Diego Molano, creator Victor and Valentino, one of the shows removed from Max, discusses his feelings about the HBO Max removals with Cartoon Brew.
September 17: Warner lays off staff working on Looney Tunes feature Bye Bye Bunny but confirms to Cartoon Brew the film is still moving forward and is being reworked as a “full-fledged musical.”
September 24: Several legal firms file lawsuits on behalf of Warner Bros. Discovery investors claiming the company misled them in the lead-up to the merger.
September 28: Responding to intense public speculation that the company may be looking at a new change in ownership as soon as it’s legally feasible, CEO David Zaslav insists to employees that “We are not for sale, absolutely, not for sale.”
October 11: That brings us to this infamous day, when a memo sent out by WBD chairman Channing Dungey announced that development and production management at Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios would be merged, fundamentally changing operations at CNS.
Opened in the mid-1990s as a division of Hanna-Barbera, Cartoon Network Studios had operated with at least some degree of autonomy for nearly three decades. That studio, at least in the form as we’ve known it for its entire existence, is no more. Its agenda will be driven by the budget-concious executives of WBD whose primary concern is eliminating billions in debt.
Musing on the news of the consolidation, Brian Miller, former general manager of Cartoon Network Studios and a key figurehead at the company for 21 years, explained why CNS is now a fundamentally different studio in a three-word tweet: “Culture is everything.”
With Warner bosses now steering the CNS ship and the studio sharing development and production resources with WBA, it will be impossible for the culture fostered at CNS over nearly 30 years of semi-independence to remain unchanged. How that change will manifest is anyone’s guess.
October 31: WBD announced that James Gunn and Peter Safran will co-head DC Studios, including animation. What that means for DC animation isn’t entirely clear yet, but it seems to suggest that the new execs will play a role in the output from Warner Bros. Animation, which produces DC series (Harley Quinn, Teen Titans Go!, Batwheels) and direct-to-video films, as well as the feature-side Warner Animation Group (DC League of Super-Pets).
This piece is a version of Cartoon Brew’s mid-month newsletter from September. To receive our bi-monthly mailings, become a Cartoon Brew subscriber here.